Imagine dreaming of visiting Paris and then when you finally get there, things are so different to what you expected that the shock actually makes you ill… This is ‘Paris Syndrome’.
While the chances of developing Paris Syndrome are slim, having unrealistic expectations of Paris is fairly common. Paris can be divisive: many people love the city passionately, but there are also those who leave it feeling disappointed and disillusioned. In fact, it often gets cited on lists of places that travellers say are ‘overrated’. And it has been the subject of some serious trolling on Tiktok recently!
So if you’re considering visiting Paris, how can you avoid disappointment (and possibly even Paris Syndrome)? In this blog, I’ll share five things you can to do set appropriate expectations for Paris.
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Table of Contents
Exactly What Is Paris Syndrome?
Paris Syndrome is the name given to a phenomenon observed in a tiny minority of visitors to Paris whose experience is very different to what they expected or are used to. It is viewed as an extreme form of culture shock and has manifested itself as a number of psychiatric and psychosomatic symptoms including delusional states, hallucinations, feelings of persecution, derealization, depersonalization, anxiety, dizziness, tachycardia, sweating, and vomiting.
The term was first coined by a Japanese psychiatrist working in Paris, Hiroaki Ota, in the 1980s and the condition has been mainly associated with Japanese tourists. However, people from other nations have been known to suffer from it too.
“Fragile travellers can lose their bearings. When the idea they have of the country meets the reality of what they discover it can provoke a crisis,” psychologist Hervé Benhamou is reported to have said.
Whilst Paris Syndrome is real, it’s also rare. In 2006, Miyuki Kusama, of the Japanese embassy in Paris, told The Guardian, “There are around 20 cases a year of the syndrome and it has been happening for several years”.
Why Do People Get So Disappointed By Paris?
Now, obviously, only a very small number of people have such an extreme reaction to Paris to be classed as ‘Paris Syndrome’, but it is not uncommon for people to be disappointed with their experience in the city.
I first got wind of this when reading discussions on social media about ‘most overrated places’, and Paris comes up fairly often. This surprised me because I loved Paris on my first visit and on every visit since – and I personally did know anyone else who didn’t also love Paris.
So I created a poll on my Twitter account to see how my followers felt about Paris and why.
The results showed that more people were delighted than were disappointed, and yet at the same time, only 55% were delighted – 45% said they felt either ‘meh’ or disappointed. This in itself was evidence that Paris is polarising, but the comments also helped me understand why.
Comments revealed that the image of Paris as super glamourous and romantic sets too high an expectation – and this leads to a sense of disappointment. So this got me thinking about all the ways that you can adjust your expectations to avoid disappointment in Paris (and in the most extreme cases, to avoid Paris Syndrome).
How To Avoid Paris Syndrome
Here are five things that I think will help you avoid disappointment in Paris, especially if you are planning a first-time visit to Paris.
1. Understand Paris Is Not Always Glamourous – It Can Also Be Gritty And Dirty
There’s plenty of media that presents Paris as a stylish and glamorous place, with elegant women sashaying around in haute couture. Think perfume ads, The Devil Wears Prada and even, more recently, Emily In Paris.
And it is true to an extent. There are, of course, glamourous places and glamourous people in Paris. I guess Paris Fashion Week is somewhere to feel in touch with the pinnacle of Parisian style (I don’t know; I have never been). Some of the most stylish places I’ve been in Paris include staying in a luxury Paris hotel and having dinner at some high-end restaurants.
However, you certainly won’t experience pristine beauty everywhere in the city. As well as high-end glamour, there are also ugly buildings, run-down streets and lots of ordinary people in regular clothes (and also a sizeable number of people sleeping rough).
Paris Can Be Dirty
One of the common complaints I’ve heard about Paris is that it is dirty, with dog poo everywhere. At first, this didn’t ring true for me, because I hadn’t noticed that myself. Perhaps my eyes were always on the lovely buildings and landmarks, rather than the pavement. Then, on another visit, I spent some time exploring Montmartre, and sure enough, I noticed a lot of dog poo around!
For me personally, this didn’t spoil my experience. I certainly didn’t love the doggy doodoo – it’s gross! But in the end, I loved everything else so much more that I was willing to overlook (and step over) the occasional poop.
Paris Can Be Scruffy
There are gorgeous neighbourhoods in Paris, and also some that are less than picture-perfect. And if you visit Paris on a budget, you might be tempted to stay in one of the cheaper areas, such as Belleville or Ménilmontant, which are creative, up-and-coming areas.
However, it’s best to be prepared when staying in places like these. It’s worth remembering that ‘creative’ areas are often those with cheaper rents that were attractive to those not earning lots of money. And if they’re ‘up-and-coming’, they’re probably still a bit rough around the edges. So you might find well-priced hotels and cool cafes, but also ugly housing blocks and graffiti.
In general, I would urge you to check your expectations about the level of glitz and glamour you’ll experience throughout Paris.
In a nutshell: Paris is not a perfume ad
2. Understand Paris Is Not Always Romantic – It Can Also Be Busy And Noisy
Paris is the City of Love, right? So many romantic stories involve a meet-cute or a proposal in Paris. Movies like Amelie (2001) and Moulin Rouge! (2001) come to mind…
And how easy is it to conjure up the idea of falling in love in Paris? An electrifying gaze across the table of a café… walking hand in hand down cobbled streets, accordion music playing somewhere… kissing at the top of the Eiffel Tower… tender moments under Paris’s cherry blossom trees… These ideas are embedded in our cultural concept of Paris.
Paris can certainly be a romantic place and there are lots of romantic things to do in Paris for couples. On the first Valentine’s day I spent with my now-husband, he took me to Paris and we did some of those romantic things and it was truly wonderful.
But while it is true that Paris can be romantic, it isn’t the whole truth…
Paris Can Be Noisy
The whole truth is that Paris has cute cobbled streets to wander down with your lover, but is also a bustling city full of cars and people and noise. Paris is a busy metropolis! 2.1 million people live and work in the city of Paris (12 million in the greater metropolitan area) – and few of them are invested in your romance.
So be prepared for traffic jams and noisy people at night – and all the non-romantic things you’d expect in any major city. It’s not all wicker chairs on café terraces and accordion music.
Oh, and talking about romantic experiences in Paris, take it from me: it can be very cold at the top of the Eiffel tower in mid-February, so you might want to make that kiss a quick one.
In a nutshell: Paris is not a romance movie
[Oh, and for this reason, don’t rule out travelling to Paris solo – I’ve done this a lot and it’s a great way to explore the city on your own terms.]
3. Understand Paris Is Big And Attractions Are Spread Out
Movies like Before Sunset and Midnight in Paris feature a Paris that is effortlessly walkable – and it’s true to an extent. I love walking around Paris, including the Latin quarter, the Left bank and Montmartre. Within an arrondissement or area, it’s very pleasant to walk around Paris.
Paris is a big city, and its attractions are spread out around the city. For example, Sacré-Cœur is 4.5km from the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower is 4.7km from the Cathedral of Notre Dame. If you wanted to walk between all the places I recommend in my Paris in one day itinerary, it would take you 4 hours and 15 minutes – just for the walking!
And of course, if you want to explore some of the non-central Paris attractions such as the Palace of Versailles or La Défense, these are definitely trips you need to find transportation for.
You May Need Transportation To Get Around Paris
If you want to see all the major destinations in Paris, you will not be able to walk between them all – unless you have lots and lots of time, energy and some seriously comfy shoes.
Most likely you will need to jump on a bus, in the Metro or in a taxi at least a couple of times. Read my post on visiting Paris for the first time for tips on using the Metro in Paris. And good news, the Citymapper app is useful for navigating public transport in Paris.
In a nutshell: Paris is not a quaint little town
4. Understand Paris Is Busy – Thronging With Tourists (& Scammers)
Maybe you imagine arriving in Paris and strolling around the Louvre, maybe popping up the Eiffel Tower. That’s fine – you can do all those things, but now imagine them all with queues. Long queues.
Paris Is Popular!
despite the negative experience of some visitors, around 40 million people visit Paris each year. Through the peak season from June to August, there can be a lot of demand for the major attractions in the city. This leads to large crowds and long queues.
Queues for the Eiffel Tower can take up to 2 hours at peak times. Hell, even in Paris in winter, there are queues for popular places!
And don’t believe all the blogs about ‘hidden gems’ in Paris: many of them are also very popular and crowded with people.
You can minimise waiting times by visiting Paris outside of the peak season (after all, Springtime in Paris is famously lovely). It can also help to book tickets for the beginning of the day, or to visit popular landmarks very early in the morning.
Overall, you should expect to have to book timed entry tickets in advance. And even then you may have to queue, because many others will have done the same, and many sites have security checks before you can go in.
Scams Exist In Paris
Where there are hordes of tourists, there are people trying to scam tourists. And Paris is no exception. There are, unfortunately, people who want to take advantage of Paris’s ability to draw crowds, and to trick or steal from visitors. In particular, the popular sites, such as the Louvre, Eiffel Tower and Sacre-Coeur, often have people who try to sell things, tricksters and also pick-pockets.
However, if you keep your wits about you and if you know what the common scams are, you have a good chance of avoiding them. Read my post on tips for travelling solo in Paris, which includes a section on common Paris scams and how to avoid them (not that they only affect solo travellers – that just happens to be where I’ve written about them).
In a nutshell: you’ll be sharing Paris with millions!
5. Understand Wait Staff May Not All Be Polite In The Way You’re Used To (But They Won’t All Be Rude Either)
There’s a stereotype that exists about Paris waiters which purports that they are often rude and dismissive. If you’ve watched the TV show Emily in Paris, you’ve seen this stereotype played out with cringe-worthy arrogance. There’s a scene where Emily decides to teach a waiter that isn’t responding how she’d like that the customer is always right (luckily we don’t see how this plays out because she’s distracted by a man she finds attractive).
I think this stereotype is unfair. I’ve had great service in Paris for years and only a couple of experiences of a waiter being rude. The first time it happened, I was struggling to order in French and ended up using some English words. The waiter (it was a bartender, actually), who didn’t speak English, got exasperated and walked off in a huff. It certainly felt rude at that moment – but it didn’t take me long to reflect that I was speaking a foreign language to this guy. Maybe he could have handled it with more grace, but it wasn’t his fault I didn’t pay attention in French class!
Service Norms Vary Around The World
Despite not believing the stereotype about Parisian waiters, I do think that service ‘norms’ can vary from country to country. If you’re used to a very service-oriented culture or one with very specific expectations of politeness, then it might be you’re disappointed by not experiencing that exact kind of service in Paris.
For example, whenever I’ve visited the US, I’ve been struck by the super-friendly and attentive service in restaurants. I think there is a higher value placed on service there than where I live in the UK, for example – and no doubt the culture of paying service staff via tips is a huge part of that. I haven’t been to Japan, but I’m led to believe that there is value placed on very polished and polite service there, which may not be met everywhere else in the world.
In essence, if you’re used to a particular style of service, you may not find it everywhere you go in Paris (or anywhere else in the world, for that matter).
I’m sure that service in high-end Paris restaurants will be acceptable to anyone’s taste (I’ve enjoyed impeccable service at some of the fancier restaurants and hotels in Paris). However, the overall culture of service around the city could be different to what you’re used to.
Oh, and in Paris, like many places in Europe, you’ll probably need to ask for the bill at the end of your – or you could wait a long time!
In a nutshell: service isn’t the same all over the world (and that’s OK)
In Summary: How To Avoid Paris Syndrome
Overall, I think the key to avoiding Paris Syndrome, and disappointment with Paris in general, is to adjust your expectations. It has glamour and romance, yes, definitely. But is also a big bustling city with dirt, noise and lots and lots of tourists.
I personally don’t mind putting up with some of Paris’s downsides – I take the rough with the smooth. But then again, I love big cities in general, so I am generally happy to put up with some noise and grime.
Give Paris A Chance!
Now, in trying to set realistic expectations, I hope I’ve not gone so far as to put you off Paris. I genuinely love it and have been coming back over and over for 25+ years.
If you’re considering a first visit to Paris or thinking about giving it another chance, read my other Paris articles, including: